Aspirational Identities

Aspirational identities are an important component of individuals’ self-stories, and can have far-reaching consequences in the present. In the case of these communities, the process of divination—or becoming “like God”—structures and gives meaning to the past and present, as well as projecting forward into the future. The past is given meaning in relation to the ongoing process of spiritual formation, tying together disparate experiences with a unifying logic of progressive attainment.

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In the present, the image of the “enlightened self” serves as a kind of compass, motivating and constraining behavior. Practitioners are motivated to undertake lines of action that they believe will move them towards their aspirations. The enlightened self also provides a framework and basis for evaluating the current self.

Aspirational identities, therefore, can have important influences on affect and self-esteem: discrepancies between one’s ideal self and one’s actual self can lead to anxiety, dejection, and low self-esteem. It is important to note that aspirational identities are not the only type of future-oriented identity that may be transmitted in religious communities. Recent psychological research suggests that the future self, like the current self, is comprised of many different, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, possible identities: the “positive and negative identities one might hold in the future”. These imagined future identities include the selves we desire to become, the identities or roles we think we should or ought to become , as well as the people we fear becoming.

From this perspective then each individual has a “repertoire of possible selves that can be viewed as the cognitive manifestation of enduring goals, aspirations, motivations, fears and threats”.

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